Networked Agency and the Legislature

Ton writes about networked agency in the shadow of The Copenhagen Catalog:

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections.

While Ton was focusing on digital systems, I think it’s useful to read his words with an eye to how our legislatures work, as what is the legislative process other than individuals in meaningful relationships working to govern.

While the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island are nominally under the control of legislators, the essential ingredients of legislative process have remained unchanged for hundreds of years and I dare say that if you ask any individual MLA whether they feel that the shape of the process and the tools available to them, engender a environment where “knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely,” they would answer no.

The way we choose to arrange our legislatures, and the power we afford to the status quo, owes much, I imagine, to the long-fought drive for responsible government: once we had a system that mostly worked, the notion that we should constantly tinker with it lost out to a desire to not have the system topple over again. And so we are left with a system based on gentlemanly combat rather than on enlightened collaboration, a system, I think, that has outlived its usefulness.

We’re centuries into this experiment now, and the world is in the midst of a wholesale upgrade in how we communicate, how we relate, and how we make decisions: it’s high time we looked at how we choose to govern ourselves through these new lenses and consider redesigning the process, in more than simply cosmetic or procedural ways, so that we can better achieve the “meaningful results and change” that Ton writes about.


Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on September 13, 2018 - 11:15 Permalink

You're right that I didn't include legislative processes in my notion of networked agency, however non-digital technology is very much part of it. Especially when it comes to things like processes and methods, digitisation isn't the key element, but networkedness is. Ways to create community, to address complexity, to organise in a distributed fashion do not presume digitisation, but do embrace the fact that we live in interconnected/interdependent/mutually influenced networks. Adding democracy and governance itself in that column is a very good addition (although I more abstractedly did include things like decision making processes, and individual rights)